Our Medieval Kitchen Garden

Welcome to our medieval kitchen garden site. Here you can read the story of our community garden, find out how you can get involved, or learn more about food production and diet in the medieval period.

Click on the pictures of vegetables  to find out more about the what the monks would have eaten, fun facts, recipes and growing tips.

Our kitchen garden is run entirely by volunteers. We are always looking for people to join us. At the moment we meet on a Thursday afternoon from the end of March until the end of September from 2.30-4pm. To find out more email: volunteer@lewespriory.org.uk

To follow the story of the construction of the garden click on the link here: Archive

This charming poem below is from fifteenth-century treatise on Gardening by Mayster Ion Gardener and stresses the importance of knowing when to plant particular seeds. No so very different from today perhaps but there were no pretty packets with convenient instructions…..

How he shall his seeds sow
Of every month he must know
Both of wortys (cabbages) and of leek
Onions and of garlic
Parsley, clary and also sage
And all other herbage

Green leafy vegetables (Green leafy vegetables - Cabbage, collards and other greens)

The medieval kitchen garden contained many varieties of greens including cabbages (cabogys), kale, sea kale, spinach, sea beet (a relative of chard), orache, Good King Henry, collard greens (colewort), sorrel and spring greens.

 

Pea (Pea - Pisum sativum)

Member of the legume family

There are many different pea varieties. In medieval times peas were mainly grown for harvesting as a dry pea. The Carling pea is one such example.

 

Garlic

Growing instructions (Garlic - Allium sativum)

Garlic grows from individual garlic cloves. These can be bought from a specialist plant supplier but the garlic bought from a food store will work too. Choose cloves that are firm and not beginning to sprout. Plant either in the autumn or early spring. Autumn planted garlic will be ready to harvest in July, spring planted in August.  Plant in well-drained soil, 5 cm deep with a gap of 20 cm between cloves, with the pointed end of the clove uppermost. Autumn planted garlic will produce flowers in late spring that can be picked and used in salads. Garlic needs to be grown in a sunny position and can be grown in containers as long as they are kept well drained and watered. Harvest when the leaves start to look dry and leathery. Garlic can be eaten fresh or dried if the bulbs are to be kept. Ideally dry the bulbs for a couple of hours in the sun. They are ready for keeping when the skin is dry and papery. Do not plant garlic near to peas or beans, but roses benefit from proximity to garlic.

Nutritional properties (Garlic - Allium sativum)

Garlic is well known for providing flavour but is also renowned for its healthy properties.

Garlic is an excellent source of vitamin B6 and contains good quantities of vitamin C, manganese, selenium, phosphorous, calcium, potassium, iron and copper.

Recommended consumption for optimum health benefits is 2 raw or 4 cooked cloves a day. Garlic is also antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal.

Brief history (Garlic - Allium sativum)

Garlic probably originated in Siberia. Documents show that it was being cultivated in China five thousand years ago. Ancient civilisations recognised the importance of garlic for its health-giving properties. Labourers building the pyramids at Giza in Egypt received a daily ration of garlic, onions and bread to keep them strong and healthy and garlic cloves were found in the tomb of Tutankhamun. Ancient Greeks believed that eating garlic made you brave and strong and so gave it to their warriors and athletes. Healers in Ancient India used garlic to treat digestive problems and to rub on wounds, cuts and bruises. From Anglo-Saxon times wild garlic (Allium ursinum, also known as ramsoms) has been used to flavour vegetable stews.

Use in medieval times (Garlic - Allium sativum)

Throughout medieval times garlic was grown in monastery gardens and widely used in both cooking and medicine. It was a staple ingredient to add flavour to the daily pottage (vegetable stew) consumed by the monks and those outside the monastery. Many herbs and spices were only available to the wealthy but garlic could be eaten by the poor as it was easy to grow and readily available. Monks and peasants chewed garlic to keep infection and hunger away. Garlic was also believed to ward off plague. In the great plague of 1664 garlic became more valuable than gold. Henri IV of France (1553-1610) loved garlic so much that he was said to have had ‘a breath that could fell an ox at 20 paces’.

In 1609 Sir John Harrington wrote in The English Doctor:

Sith garlicke then hath power to save from death,
Beare with it though it makes unsavoury breath;
And scorn not garlicke, like to some that thinke,
It only makes men winke, and drinke and stinke.

Medieval recipes (Garlic - Allium sativum)

Boiled Garlic

Ingredients

250 ml water
cloves of 6 bulbs of garlic, peeled
3 tablespoons butter or oil
1/8 teaspoon saffron
1/8 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
pinch mace
1 tablespoon of chopped parsley to garnish

Method

Bring the water to the boil.
Add garlic cloves, butter or oil, saffron, salt, cinnamon and mace.
Simmer for about 7 minutes until the garlic is easily pierced with a fork.
Drain and serve garnished with parsley.

Salat (salad)

Ingredients

Parsley
Sage
Garlic
Spring onions
Onions
Leeks
Borage
Mint
Fennel
Watercress
Rue
Rosemary
Purslane
Olive oil
White wine vinegar

Method

Shred the greens.
Finely mince the garlic, leeks and onions.
Mix 3 parts oil with one part vinegar to form a dressing.
Place the salad ingredients in a bowl and pour over the dressing.
Add salt to taste.

Did you know? (Garlic - Allium sativum)

Garlic has long been considered to have protective qualities. Placing garlic cloves around the house can deter snakes and poisonous insects. Garlic is also believed to deter vampires!

Garlic can be used if you run out of glue. Simply rub both pieces of paper with a cut garlic clove, press them together until the juice has dried and they will be stuck together.

Folklore has it that if you dream of receiving garlic it is a sign of coming good fortune but if you dream of giving it away you may soon be giving away all your good luck.

Green leafy vegetables

Growing instructions (Green leafy vegetables - Cabbage, collards and other greens)

Cabbages can be sown directly outside or into seed trays and propagated before planting outside. Sow from February to September and plant out March to October to allow continuous harvesting throughout the year. Cabbages need a sunny site and firm soil and should not be planted in the same soil that they (or other brassicas) were grown the previous year. Space seeds (or small plants) 30-45 cm apart to a depth of 1cm.

Nutritional properties (Green leafy vegetables - Cabbage, collards and other greens)

Cabbage has been an important ingredient of peasant food. It is an excellent source of vitamins K, C and B6, also contains good quantities of fibre, potassium, vitamins B2 and B12, copper and manganese. It is a rich source of beta-carotene.

Brief history (Green leafy vegetables - Cabbage, collards and other greens)

There are many varieties of leafy green vegetables, some of which have been cultivated for over five thousand years. Many derive from plants growing wild on the rocky coasts and cliffs of Western Europe and the Mediterranean, where some still grow today. Wild varieties are often bitter and unpalatable and have been cultivated over the centuries to improve the flavour, so the green leafy vegetables of medieval times are different from those we grow today. Sea kale is one of the few varieties indigenous to the UK and it was widely consumed in medieval times. Young leaves are eaten raw or lightly cooked and the first shoots can be steamed and eaten like asparagus. Sea kale became a royal favourite with the Prince Regent (future George IV 1762-1830) enjoying the abundance of wild sea kale on Brighton beach (don’t pick it these days, it’s a protected plant).

Use in medieval times (Green leafy vegetables - Cabbage, collards and other greens)

Green leafy vegetables have changed since medieval times, as have the words used to describe them. Medieval wortys and caules (as referred to in recipes of the time) are open-leaved greens of the cabbage family such as chard, turnip greens, kale and spinach. These are different to the cabogys used in recipes which are the tightly-headed white or green cabbage.

All forms of cabbage and greens were a staple of medieval monastery food and featured regularly in the diet of peasants. However, cabbage is rarely mentioned in the cook books of the rich. One advantage of growing leafy greens is that you could pick the leaves as you needed them and leave the plant growing. Another was the speed at which cabbages grow and the ease of storing them which meant they became essential eating during the winter months when vegetables were scarce.

People believed that eating cabbage could make you melancholy and cause nightmares. It was, however, considered an antidote to drunkenness. Cabbage leaves were used to dress wounds and cabbage juice, mixed with honey was given to those who had lost their voice.

Medieval recipes (Green leafy vegetables - Cabbage, collards and other greens)

Cabbage soup

Ingredients

600g firm hearted cabbage or 700g spring greens
225g onions, peeled and finely chopped
225g white part of leeks, finely sliced
teaspoon dried saffron strands (saffron was and is expensive so you can cut down on quantities if desired)
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon each ground coriander, cinnamon and sugar
850 ml vegetable stock

Method

Cut the cabbage into 8 segments and remove the core (if using spring greens cut off the stalks and cut into strips).
Put the cabbage in a large pan with the onions and leeks.
Add the stock and stir in the saffron, salt, and spices.
Cover the pan and cook gently for about 20 minutes until cabbage is tender.
The soup can be served over squares of toast, known as sops.

Compost (mixed pickles)

Ingredients

900g of mixed roots- can include radishes, turnips, carrots, parsnip, parsley roots
450 g white cabbage
450g hard eating pears
6 tablespoons salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon dried saffron
425ml white wine vinegar
50g currants
575ml white wine
6 tablespoons clear honey
1 teaspoon French mustard
⅛ teaspoon each of ground cinnamon and black pepper
¼ teaspoon each of anise and fennel seeds
50g white sugar

Method

Peel the root vegetables and slice them thinly.
Core and shred the cabbage.
Put all the vegetables into a large pan of water and bring slowly to the boil.
Peel, core and chop the pears and add to the pan.
Cook until everything starts to soften, but still maintains a bite.
Drain and spread the vegetables and spread out in a 5 cm shallow, non-metallic dish.
Sprinkle with the salt, ginger, saffron and 4 tablespoons of the vinegar.
Leave covered for 12 hours.
Rinse well.
Add the currants.
Pack into sterilized jars leaving 2.5 cm space at the top.
Put the wine and honey in a pan.
Bring to simmering point, skim off surface scum and add the remaining vinegar, spices and sugar.
Reduce the heat and stir, without boiling until the sugar dissolves.
Bring back up to the boil and pour over the vegetables ensuring the are covered by at least 1 cm of liquid (to ensure the glass jars don’t crack stand the in a basin of hot water before pouring over the hot spiced wine liquid).
Seal and store for future use.

Did you know? (Green leafy vegetables - Cabbage, collards and other greens)

Cabbage contains more vitamin C than oranges. Salted cabbage was taken on sea voyages and eaten by sailors to prevent scurvy.

In ancient China people believed eating cabbage would cure baldness.

Cabbage only needs three months of growing time and so one acre of cabbage will yield more edible vegetables than any other plant. This makes cabbage the most accessible, cheap and nutritious vegetable and explains its use throughout the world as a staple in the diet of ordinary people.

Leek

Growing instructions (Leek - Allium porrum)

Leeks can be grown from seed in soil that has been improved with compost or well-rotted manure. Seeds are sown thinly, 1cm deep in rows 15 cm apart, from February to April for harvesting from August. Alternatively, plant seeds in a seed tray (which can be left outdoors) and plant out seedlings from May. Mature leeks can be left in the ground and lifted as needed.

Nutritional properties (Leek - Allium porrum)

Leeks provide flavour but are also a healthy addition to our diet. They are a good source of vitamin K, manganese, vitamin B6, copper, iron, folate and vitamin C. They are also a good source of vitamin A, dietary fibre, magnesium, vitamin E, calcium and omega-3 fatty acids. It has been suggested that eating leeks boosts the immune system and helps maintain gut health.

Brief history (Leek - Allium porrum)

Leeks were cultivated by the Ancient Egyptians.

The Romans introduced leeks to England. Leeks featured strongly in the Anglo-Saxon diet – their word for garden was leek-garth (leac-ward). In the 6th century St David, the patron saint of Wales, was said to survive on eating only leeks and water.

Use in medieval times (Leek - Allium porrum)

Leeks were a staple of the medieval diet. They formed one of the main ingredients for pottage- a stew eaten most days by almost everyone including the monks of Lewes Priory. Leeks were grown in all kitchen gardens. Pottage was made from whatever vegetables were in season and was often thickened with oats. Wealthier people added more expensive ingredients such as meat and spices. It was believed that leeks stimulated the appetite but, according to one thirteenth century writer, over indulgence  “...causes headache and gives bad dreams…after eating it, some lettuce, purslane or endive should be taken, to temper its heating effects.” (Mensa Philosophica: The Science of Dining: A Medieval Treatise on the Hygiene of the Table, translated by Arthur Way for Macmillan, 1936)

The peelings from leeks were used for bleaching hair and eyebrows and leek juice and leek seeds were used in recipes for toothpaste.

A 15th century book of remedies (known as a leechbook) suggests a cure for nosebleeds is to anoint the nose with the juice of leeks.

In the Canterbury Tales Chaucer tells us that the Summoner, “Wel loved he garleek, oynons, and eek lekes, “

Medieval recipes (Leek - Allium porrum)

Slit Sops

Serves 2

Ingredients

4 medium leeks (white part only)
2 tablespoons butter
350 ml dry white wine
¼ teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons flour blended with 1 tablespoon soft butter

For the sops: 1-2 slices toast, quartered, or ½ cup croutons

Method

Cut the leeks into quarters. Wash thoroughly.
Melt butter in a saucepan and sauté the leeks over a gentle heat until softened.
Add the wine and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 10-15 minutes until the leeks are cooked.
Stir in the flour and butter blend just before serving.
Serve in bowls over toast or croutons.

Did you know? (Leek - Allium porrum)

The leek is one of the national symbol of Wales, the other is the daffodil.

Since medieval times it has been claimed that girls who sleep with a leek under their pillow on St David’s Day will see their future husbands in their dreams.

The Roman emperor Nero was known as the ‘leek eater’ as he ate large quantities of leeks believing this would improve his singing voice.

Pea

Growing instructions (Pea - Pisum sativum)

Sow pea seeds from February to June in a sunny position with good drainage. Make a trench in the soil 5cm deep and 15cm wide and sow the seed evenly 7 cm apart. Cover with soil. Water well when flowering begins. Support the growing peas with canes or netting. Peas will be ready to harvest in 11-16 weeks depending on the variety

Nutritional properties (Pea - Pisum sativum)

Low in calories compared to beans and other legumes, peas contain good amounts of fibre, B vitamins and high concentrations of vitamin C. Peas are also rich in minerals such as calcium, iron, copper, zinc and magnesium. Peas are a rich source of protein and contain no fat. Fresh peas are also deliciously sweet.

Brief history (Pea - Pisum sativum)

Peas were one of the first cultivated food crops and probably originated in central Asia and the Middle East. Until the 16th century peas were always dried to preserve them so that they could be eaten throughout the year. In Tudor times more tender varieties of peas were grown and so fresh peas entered the diet, but only for the rich. Fresh peas were expensive and considered a luxury and Elizabeth I had peas imported from the Netherlands.

Use in medieval times (Pea - Pisum sativum)

The monks at Lewes Priory would regularly eat dishes made from dried split peas. During Lent they were only allowed to eat plain, simple food (no meat or fish) and peas provided a good source of protein during this time.

Pease pudding (or pottage) made from dried, split peas was eaten by everyone as it was a filling, relatively cheap dish to make in times before the arrival of the potato. Wealthier people would eat it with meat (usually ham or gammon) and flavour it with expensive spices. They could also afford to indulge in eating “peas on a spit” – a mixture of peas and eggs, seasoned, fried and then roasted.

Medieval recipes (Pea - Pisum sativum)

Puree of peas

Ingredients

1 litre of stock
700g green peas- fresh (or frozen- not an option available in medieval times!)
1 large onion, chopped
2 tablespoons light soft brown sugar
salt to taste

Method

Bring the stock to the boil.
Add the chopped onions and peas and cook gently until the peas are soft.
Puree the cooked mixture (using a modern electric blender makes this easier!).
Season before serving.

In medieval times the thicker the puree, the better its quality was thought to be.

Pease pudding

Ingredients

500g green or yellow dried split peas soaked overnight.
50g butter.
1 tablespoon each of chopped parsley, mint and marjoram.
Salt and pepper to taste.

Method

Soak the peas for 8-12 hours.
Drain and rinse the peas. Place in a saucepan, with fresh water to cover them.
Bring to the boil and cover with a lid. Skim off any scum that rises to the surface.
Simmer for an hour until the peas are tender, checking regularly and adding more water if necessary.
Strain the peas and add the chopped herbs and butter.

In medieval times wealthy people would flavour their pease pottage with expensive spices such as cinnamon, saffron and nutmeg.

Did you know? (Pea - Pisum sativum)

Peas are green in colour as they are harvested when not fully mature. If peas are left to ripen they turn yellow. Eating fresh green peas became fashionable in the 1600s.

Until 16th century people mainly ate dried peas. Dried split peas are made from both green and yellow peas. Green split peas are sweeter and less starchy than the milder yellow split peas.

Peas in England were originally called pease, as in pease pudding. This was later shortened to pea as people incorrectly assumed that the se ending in pease was the ‘s’ denoting a plural. Pease pudding (or pease pottage) has been eaten since medieval times. It is a dish of cooked split peas. Today it is most commonly cooked in the northeast of England.

The Onion

Growing instructions (The Onion - Allium cepa)

Onions can be grown from seed but are more frequently grown from sets- the name given to small onion bulbs sold for planting. Sets are preferred as the onions grow more quickly and are less likely to be attacked by pests and diseases.

If growing from seed: Sow in 1 cm deep rows, 20 cm apart, from late February to early April. Remove weaker seedlings to leave onions growing 10 cm apart.

If growing from sets: Plant sets 10 cm apart from mid-March to mid-April. Push into the soil until just the tip is showing.

Onions grow best in open ground.

Remove flower spikes as soon as you see them. Stop watering once the onion bulbs have swollen and remove any soil to expose the bulbs to the sun.

Harvest when the foliage turns yellow and droops over. If kept in a cool, dry dark place onions can stay fresh throughout the winter.

Nutritional properties (The Onion - Allium cepa)

Onions are well known for providing flavour but are also a healthy addition to our diet. They contain many vitamins - notably vitamin C - and fibre. Other nutrients found in onions may help with gut health. The World Health Organisation has recognised the onion for its ability to help relieve flu symptoms, including coughs, congestion, respiratory infections and bronchitis. (WHO: Monographs on selected Medicinal Plants.)

Brief history (The Onion - Allium cepa)

Onions have been cultivated for over 5,000 years and probably originated in Asia. Ancient Greeks rubbed onions on their sore muscles. Chinese healers used onions to relieve colds and flu. Ancient Egyptians considered the circles of the onion to be a symbol for eternity and placed them over the eyes of their dead.

Use in medieval times (The Onion - Allium cepa)

Onions were a staple of the medieval diet. They formed the main ingredient of pottage- a stew eaten most days by almost everyone, including the monks of Lewes Priory. Onions were grown in all kitchen gardens. Pottage was made from whatever vegetables were in season and was often thickened with oats. Wealthier people would add more expensive ingredients such as meat and spices to their pottage.

The Larderer’s accounts at Lewes Priory for 1533-4 record four bushels (145 kg) of onions and garlic. Some of these would have been used to flavour cheese flans.

According to an old English rhyme the thickness of an onion skin could predict the weather:

Onion skin very thin
Mild winter coming in.
Onion skin very tough
Coming winter very rough.

Medieval recipes (The Onion - Allium cepa)

Pottage

Ingredients

I litre of stock
A selection of the following vegetables (about 250 g of each)Onions
Cabbage
Celery
Leeks
Parsnips
Turnips

2 cloves of garlic

A selection of herbs (fresh or dried): basil, marjoram, parsley, rosemary, sage, thyme.

2 tablespoons of porridge oats.

Method

Peel and chop the vegetables.
Bring the stock to the boil in a pan.
Add the vegetables and herbs and bring back to the boil.
Turn down the heat and simmer until the vegetables are cooked.
Stir in the oats and simmer until they are cooked.
Serve, seasoned with salt and pepper.

Did you know? (The Onion - Allium cepa)

In medieval times onions could be used to pay for rent, goods and services and were even given as gifts!

In medieval times onions were prescribed to alleviate headaches, snake bites and hair loss!

Sliced onions can soothe insect bites and skin burns